More than a dozen Piggly Wiggly stores in Alabama and Mississippi are facing fines for what the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division calls “significant violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s child labor and wage provision.”
The following is a news release from the division:
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has found significant violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s child labor and wage provisions at 14 franchisee-owned Piggly Wiggly grocery stores in Alabama and Mississippi. Employers have been assessed $53,037 in civil money penalties for permitting a total of 31 minor employees at 11 of the stores to conduct prohibited hazardous jobs. Minimum wage and overtime back wages totaling $12,547 will be paid by seven stores to 56 employees who were denied proper compensation for all hours worked, in violation of the FLSA.
The division’s investigations were conducted under a multi-year enforcement initiative focused on the grocery store industry in the two states, where widespread noncompliance with the FLSA’s minimum wage, overtime, record-keeping and child labor provisions has been found. Common child labor violations include minors being required to perform prohibited hazardous tasks such as loading and/or operating power-driven scrap paper balers and paper box compactors. Other violations include employers making illegal deductions for uniforms and other items that caused workers’ wages to fall below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour; failing to pay for all compensable hours, such as rest breaks; and improperly classifying employees as exempt from the FLSA, which resulted in overtime violations.
“We are concerned about the large population of low-wage and vulnerable workers, particularly minors, employed by grocery stores in Alabama and Mississippi at which the division has found significant child labor violations,” said Kenneth Stripling, director of the Wage and Hour Division’s Gulf Coast District Office. “The goal of this ongoing initiative is to remedy systemic wage and child labor violations, educate employers about their legal responsibilities and promote sustained compliance throughout the industry.”
Under this initiative, investigators from the division’s Gulf Coast office are making unannounced visits to grocery stores throughout both states to identify patterns of FLSA violations and remind workers of their rights under federal law. Employee interviews and inspections of payroll records are being conducted to ensure compliance with all applicable labor standards. Investigators also are engaging parent companies of local grocery stores to enlist their cooperation in ensuring compliance among franchisee-operated establishments. When violations are found, the division says it will pursue corrective action—including litigation, civil money penalties and “hot goods” embargoes—to recover workers’ wages and ensure accountability under the law.
In addition, the division is conducting outreach to workers, employers, community organizations, faith-based groups, employee representatives and others to encourage vulnerable workers to come forward with complaints. The division also is meeting with key employer associations—such as the Alabama Grocers Association and the Associated Grocers of the South Inc.—to encourage their participation in promoting industry-wide compliance. In fiscal year 2011, the division conducted 12 outreach sessions under this initiative, providing FLSA education and compliance assistance to thousands of stakeholders.
The FLSA restricts the working hours of and prohibits the employment of people under age 18 in any nonagricultural occupations that the secretary of labor has declared hazardous, such as the use of power-driven balers, compactors and paper processing machines. The FLSA requires payment of at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 to covered, nonexempt employees for all hours worked. It also requires that employees receive time and a half their regular rates, including commissions, bonuses and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. Additionally, employers must maintain accurate time and payroll records.